$530,000 FDOT grant for operation of City of Sarasota’s Bay Runner trolley formally added to city budget for this fiscal year

Company still awaiting delivery of vehicles for route between downtown Sarasota and Lido and St. Armands keys

The Siesta Key Breeze prepares to make a turn south from Ocean Boulevard onto Beach Road. The Bay Runner trolleys are expected to have a similar appearance, as the same company will operate them. File photo

In unanimously approving Consent Agenda No. 2 on their Feb. 7 meeting agenda, the Sarasota city commissioners formally amended the city’s budget for this fiscal year to include a $530,082 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the operations of the Bay Runner trolley.

The Bay Runner will circulate between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands and Lido keys.

As a Jan. 12 memo from city Parking Division General Manager Mark Lyons to city Finance Director Kelly Strickland notes, the additional funding for the Bay Runner will come in the form of $750,000 from the city’s Economic Development Fund and $50,000 apiece from the Downtown Improvement District and the Business Improvement District of St. Armands.

The FDOT funding agreement will be in effect through Dec. 31, 2025, according to the document, which was included in the Feb. 7 agenda packet.

On Nov. 1, 2021, the City Commission voted 4-1 to award the approximately $4.4-million, three-year Bay Runner contract to C.P.R. Medical Transportation LLC of Washington, D.C. That company also handles the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley service. Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch cast the “No” vote after voicing concerns about the expense and expressing a desire for a pilot program at the outset, to gauge public interest in the service.

This is the funding breakdown for the Bay Runner and paratransit operations shown to the city commissioners on Nov. 1, 2021. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question on Feb. 7, Jan Thornburg, the city’s senior communications manager, wrote that C.P.R. Medical expects the trolleys to arrive “toward the end of this month.” Thus, no launch date has been scheduled yet.

The FDOT agreement also includes details about the project. It explains, “The goals and objectives [of the trolley service] are to 1) relieve traffic congestion on [State Road] SR 789 during the construction of the U.S. 41 and Gulfstream [Avenue] roundabout, 2) provide a transit option for accessibility to shopping, recreational activities, and employment opportunities, and 3) support the City’s Transportation Vision for a safe and active community with diverse transportation choices.”

This map shows the planned route of the Bay Runner, plus its stops. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

It further notes that FDOT must receive “a progress report” bimonthly, with details about ridership; numbers of passengers per mile and per hour; on-time performance; the average time persons have to wait to catch the trolley at a stop; the amount of time the Bay Runner takes to unload and load passengers; and the cost per passenger.

Additionally, the agreement notes, the city has offered to provide data about the volume of traffic on the route prior to the Bay Runner’s launch, with updates twice a year — in February, during tourist season, and in August, which is out of high season. The city also plans a user satisfaction survey, the document says.

During the City Commission’s first meeting of the year — on Jan. 3 — the board members authorized Mayor Erik Arroyo and City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs to execute an interlocal agreement with the Sarasota County Commission so the Bay Runner can use specific county bus shelters.

Thus far, the County Commission has not addressed that interlocal agreement. It was not on the board’s agenda for its regular meeting on Jan. 25, and it was also not on the agenda for the Feb. 8 session.

In response to a News Leader inquiry about that this week, Jane Grogg, director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), replied in a Feb. 9 email, “Sarasota County Area Transit staff continues to work with the City of Sarasota regarding use of bus shelters located within the city for their future trolley service.”